Meet the Entrepreneur Behind Shark Tank’s Tipsy Elves
Nick Morton is the co-founder of Tipsy Elves along with Evan Mendelsohn. Tipsy Elves is a novelty apparel company that designs and manufactures fun, one-of-a-kind apparel for every occasion. The company began in 2011 creating ugly Christmas sweaters but has since grown exponentially and now makes clothes for any time of year. Tipsy Elves appeared on Shark Tank in 2013 and Beyond the Tank in 2015.
Prior to starting their business, Nick was an endodontist (root canal specialist) and Evan was a corporate lawyer at a big law firm. Both of them have since quit their jobs to focus on the business full time. Nick took a few minutes to talk to us about how he and his co-founder went from knowing nothing about starting a business to growing a successful clothing company in just four years. Learn how they taught themselves the ins and outs of business, what they’d do differently if given the chance and the best piece of advice they have for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Name: Nick Morton, co-founder of Tipsy Elves Twitter
Why did you start this business?
We started this business because both Evan and I always felt like we wanted to work for ourselves and create something bigger than ourselves. Neither of us felt like that was an option in our original jobs. When we saw there was a niche market for novel funny products we jumped right in and Tipsy Elves was born.
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How did you bring the business to life?
Evan approached me in 2011 because neither of us could find any fun, new Christmas sweaters to wear to ugly Christmas sweater parties. We realized there was a huge void in the market for this product and set out to create it. We knew literally nothing about manufacturing apparel, making a website, social media marketing or anything related to starting a business. What we did have was a commitment to figuring it out. We put every extra dollar and free minute we had into educating ourselves on how to start a business and grow a clothing company and despite many mistakes taught ourselves the ins and outs of the business.
Where do you see the business in five years?
We see Tipsy Elves as the number one place optimistic, fun people think of when they are in the market for one-of-a-kind apparel. If you are going to have a fun day, Tipsy Elves is your answer. We aim to be a $100 million a year business.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If we were to start over I think I personally would have gone full-time with Tipsy Elves sooner. Evan went full-time before I did which put a lot of burden on him. I think if I joined full-time sooner we might have been able to grow even faster! That being said, we always work with no regrets and quickly forget any negatives or mistakes. You have to do that to be successful!
What drives you every day as an entrepreneur?
The thing that drives me most as an entrepreneur is the idea that we are creating something bigger than ourselves. We have such huge goals and plans for Tipsy Elves and knowing that four years ago we didn’t even exist is really exciting. We now have multiple employees who depend on our business for their livelihood, we have customers who look to us to bring fun and laughter into their lives and we have the potential to do a lot of good through our charity programs. How could you not wake up every day super excited to keep moving forward toward your goals?
What does your typical day look like?
I usually wake up around 6 AM, get dressed and head to the gym. I’ve been working out every morning around 6:30 or 7 AM. It really jump starts my day, gets my blood pumping and clears the mind. Once that is over I feel empowered and ready to take on the day. I work remotely many days from San Francisco. (Our headquarters are in San Diego.) I arrive at my office and log-in to our telepresence Robot which we’ve affectionately named “Morty.” This allows me to communicate directly with our employees in San Diego and move around the office with my own free will. Then it is a ton of phone calls, strategy planning, spreadsheets, design meetings, strategy decisions, social media marketing game planning and logistics support. As a co-founder you must wear many different hats. It is a lot of things to handle but also extremely exciting. Every day is different!
What is one trend that really excites you?
I love that people of our generation really value uniqueness and comfort in their own skin. They love to stand out and are unafraid to be themselves even if that means they might be considered different or “weird” or awkward by some people. We love to make clothes that instantly make people notice you and as more and more young people are comfortable in the own skin the better it is for our brand and for our society in general. We never want people to apologize for being themselves.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
This might sound corny but I don’t know that I ever had a horrible job. Every job you have is a blessing. You are getting paid and you are getting paid to learn. I’ve worked as a checker at a CVS, I worked as a retail sales person in a tennis shop and as a tennis racquet stringer, I worked in a chemistry laboratory and I used to deliver the newspaper in my teens. Some of these I enjoyed more than others but all of them taught me different values. CVS taught me how to communicate with people. The newspaper route taught me how to get my butt out of bed early in the morning. Being a sales person taught me to sell. A job is some of the best type of education you can have if you allow yourself to think of it that way. You get to learn AND you get paid.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do, too?
Stay optimistic to a fault. Always. If you are starting a business there is no chance in hell that everything is going to go right. I believe that a huge part of our success is our ability to see the bright side in things. This doesn’t mean we don’t recognize when there are pitfalls or errors or mistakes but as soon as something bad happens we don’t dwell on it for one second. Instead, it’s “how can we turn this bad situation into a good one?”
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A good example was during our first year we only ordered 5,000 sweaters and 1,000 of them came back with a copyrighted design on them. The manufacturer took a short cut and didn’t use our correct design. Twenty percent of our inventory was unsellable. This could be seen as a horrible situation. Instead we put an image of the correct design as “sold out” on the website and drove traffic to that page. This made demand go through the roof because everyone viewed that sweater as the most popular. When we finally got the correct sweaters in stock just a couple weeks before Christmas this demand allowed us to sell through all of the sweaters in record time.
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What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve always been a notorious procrastinator. I seem to do well under pressure so I would push school work and projects to the last minute. You can’t do that as an entrepreneur because you are building a business and businesses are built on relationships. If you are making people wait they are going to go and find someone else to do business with. Also in business you are competing against the very best. In school a lot of people can get an “A.” In business there is usually only one “A” and if you don’t get it you go out of business. This realization that business is a zero sum game set a fire under me that time is of the essence and what can be done tomorrow should be done today.
What is your favorite online tool that helps improve you or your efficiency?
My robot Morty! He allows me to directly communicate with my employees and co-founder Evan without having to write things over Skype or email.
What is the one book that you recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs?
There are a lot. I think Good to Great by James C. Collins is a classic, good read.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Robert Herjavec – He is our mentor and business partner and there’s no one I’ve learned more from in the world of business than him.
The Fat Jewish – Because he’s hilarious although offensive at times.
Tipsy Elves – I’m biased!
What entrepreneurs have inspired you?
Robert Herjavec – again for the same reasons above. The founders of Summit: Elliot Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Leventhal, Jeremy Schwartz and others. They created an amazing community of young thought leaders for the future and are now building one of the most awesome home bases at the Powder Mountain Ski resort in Utah. Evan and I are extremely proud to be a part of the group because the things these people do on a daily basis are super inspiring.
What is the best piece of advice you have for fellow entrepreneurs?
If you have an idea and you truly believe it in just do it. Don’t ask a bunch of people for advice – if you do you are only looking for an out. Just put your head down, and get moving. Once you get started and you run into road blocks or have problems that is the time to get advice. The biggest killer of new business is never even getting started.
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